Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Death by Arsenic

04.05.2010
Hair analysis proves it: Legendary racehorse Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning in 1932

Phar Lap was a legendary racehorse that won many notable races. After its triumph in the famous Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932 in Mexico, the animal died in agony under mysterious circumstances while on tour in the USA. One of the suggestions at the time was that Phar Lap had been poisoned.

Ivan M. Kempson (Academia Sinica, Taiwan) and Dermot A. Henry (Museum Victoria, Australia) have now subjected the horse’s hairs to a very thorough examination. As the researchers report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the animal does indeed seem to have died of arsenic poisoning.

Traces of many substances that enter the body eventually also wind up in the hair, where they accumulate. Hair analysis has often been used to detect drug use or to posthumously uncover poisoning as the cause of death. After his death, Phar Lap was prepared and stuffed and displayed in Museum Victoria in Melbourne. “We were able to obtain small pieces of the hide and mane with the roots intact,” reports Kempson.

They only examined hairs that were unquestionably still growing at the time of death. These were individually analyzed along their entire length with synchrotron X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at the Advanced Photon Source in Chicago. This method detects even trace amounts of chemical elements because each element emits very characteristic radiation.

The scientists looked at the arsenic content of the hairs. “They found a small amount of arsenic that was relatively evenly distributed over all of the hairs. This is in agreement with the arsenic content of the chemicals used to preserve the hide,” says Kempson. “In addition, we found a considerably elevated arsenic content at the same distance from the root in each of the hairs we examined.”At the time of the horse’s death, this part of the hair was under the surface of the skin.

“If you take into account the rate of growth for horse hair and the metabolic rate, the location at which the elevated arsenic concentration was found indicates that the horse must have eaten and metabolized the arsenic,” explains Kempson. In addition, the scientists used an X-ray technique that can distinguish the chemical environment of the arsenic. Says Kempson: “ The arsenic species identified also suggest that Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning.”

However, it is impossible to know how the horse ingested the arsenic. Was it deliberate poisoning by competitors or enviers? Was it an accident—perhaps an overdose of the arsenic-containing tonics popular at the time? Was the feed contaminated? “That will always remain a mystery,” says Kempson.

Author: Ivan M. Kempson, Academia Sinica, Taipei (Taiwan), mailto:ivan.m.k@hotmail.com

Title: Synchrotron Radiation Reveals Arsenic Poisoning and Metabolism in Hair: The Case of Phar Lap

Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Permalink to the article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.200906594

Ivan M. Kempson | Angewandte Chemie
Further information:
http://pressroom.angewandte.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

nachricht New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>